While waiting for Saskia’s arrival, we were nervous in more ways than you can count on both hands. There was the (rather encompassing) set of adoption-related anxieties: would the baby be healthy? Would Caroline, the birth mother, feel similarly resolved to go through with the adoption once she met the baby in person? Would Ruel, the birth father, let the adoption occur? (That last worry, turned out, was not only legitimate but resulted in a pretty terrifying stretch of months). When we put all those concerns aside there a whole other subset of worries, chiefly how would we manage with four kids? Four, I kept saying to Hosea, hoping against hope this was going to be true, is the new three.

Four, I’m here to tell you, is decidedly not the new three.

My friends, specifically my next-door neighbor’s very wonderful son and daughter-in-law, just had their fourth (congratulations, Jocelyn and Michael!). Turns out, their constellation has some direct relation to ours, in that their older trio has moved well past diapers into those next phases, such as school—and, for their eldest, ‘tweendom. Like us, their family does not fall into that four under some impossibly young age like four or five or six category. They took the scenic route to reach four, complete with this brand-new caboose babe (sort of like getting baby and team mascot rolled into one).

Hearing this happy news, I started thinking about what I’ve learned—from my twenty months’ experience thus far and from asking others to describe theirs—about raising four kids (there aren’t, in my world, all that many of us). I’d been pondering our relatively small ranks for a while, wondering whether, with the economy so stinky, the four-kid family ranks might stay smaller (because it’s impossible to argue true necessity about a fourth, the first one, sure, the second, siblings… but three, four?). Friends had a fourth this summer—lovely Leo—yet there were twins at the front end and so Leo’s the product of the third pregnancy (and he happens to be a glorious, jewel-eyed baby). Friends of friends just had babies two, three, and four last week (big sister is not yet two); again, that’s not expressly planning for four (I imagine, at first, that’s just oh-my-*&$#’ing-G%d).

Soon after Saskia arrived, my next-door neighbor, Michael’s mother, Marian, now grandmother to nine, said of raising four that she remembered grocery shopping every single day. “They just ate so much food,” she remarked, as if still marveling over that fact. Her two football-playing sons downed milk by the gallon. I think of Marian often when I embark upon my frequent—if not quite daily, then practically so—trips to buy more food—and milk.

When she was a newborn, I actively sought advice from parents with four kids (and I solicited a little more last night, after learning of Catherine’s arrival in far-off Texas, where the largeness of the state may encourage large families). I got some great advice that I’ll pass on. Even if you don’t have four (or any), I’m betting there are useful nuggets here.

My friend, Emily, offered some practical advice about the beginning: “Ignore the baby while the others are around as much as possible in the beginning. Don't push the baby on the others.” Truth be told, this would help with parents welcoming baby two or three or five; in fact, even with the first, a generous dose of benign neglect is an extremely healthy thing. A sling, she recalls, allowed her two free hands while holding the baby.

My friend, Deb, said, “You’ll never be on time to anything ever again.” She delivered this information almost solemnly—like, don’t think otherwise—and with a bald matter-of-factness that suggested I’d be better off simply accepting this rather than sweat it. You have four kids; you are, de facto, late. Deal with it, but do not try to change it.

She did not tell me that with four, you are scattered. This past summer, I was that last-minute-form-returning headache for camp offices all around the Valley (and maybe for one tennis camp in Philadelphia, although that one didn’t seem to mind a bit). I was on top of it enough to secure spots in the camps that fill up really quickly (phew!). With the rest, though, I didn’t even attempt being timely. I kept remembering my friend Noel Channan’s story of picking up his 84 year old aunt at her house to take her to Heathrow airport years ago. He was hurrying her along, concerned that she’d be late—this was before the latest security threats made air travel that much more cumbersome—and she brushed his concerns aside. “Someone,” she said, “has to be the last one on the airplane.”

In truth, for worse—and in some ways, I could argue, for better—we now always have something in need of repair we haven’t gotten to fixing (currently, our printer; fortunately soon, our roof won’t be on that list, but it took a leak in the bathroom to make me finally call the wonderful and talented Mitch Hawkins to come redo our roof) and we are behind in many things most of the time from thank-you notes to getting health forms in (or lead tests taken). For worse, that’s apparent; we do need a functional roof and a working printer and the school needs its health forms and I believe in thank-you notes. For better, though, how’s that? I guess when you truly admit you are unable to retain control over every detail of your life you begin to prioritize differently, and with luck, you do so in ways that let you put more energy into what matters most.

For me, I’ve just decided that kids and work are my priorities, and have put my energies there (to the house’s detriment, alas). Getting enough time with my sweet, lovely, hubby has taken a hit, too (but our love is strong, and we continue to want to spend time together, both grand things).

Of having four, my friend, Stephanie, told me, “You never have to bring anything to a potluck ever again. Just showing up with four children is work enough.” For one thing, every time I’ve made it to a potluck since Saskia joined our family, and managed to bring anything—think, bag of chips and salsa—I feel positively supermom-ish. I haven’t actually cooked for a potluck, mind you, since Saskia arrived, and I have indeed, showed up empty-handed (of food) with four children in tow. All summer, at potluck after potluck, we brought popcorn. It was homemade popcorn, and it all got eaten, but still.

In keeping with that showing up is enough theme, over these past twenty months, I have gratefully accepted more rides than I’ve given, sent my kids out to play dates not always equally reciprocated, and received mountains of hand-me-down clothing. I’ve given rides, had friends over to play, passed on mountains of clothing and baby gear, too, so I’m not saying I headed down a one-way street. Maybe because there’s so much going on at all times—four kids, three schools, two parents working—I am more likely to say, thank you to help rather than, no thanks. That feels a little bit different, a little bit new. And I feel exceedingly grateful to our friends for all the ways they offer help to us.

Part and parcel with getting these assists is the fact that I’m less able to hover and—logistical impossibility—I’m unable to be present to all children at all times. Given that my oldest is 14, and the next 11, I actually think this is a good thing. I probably would have catered more to each child—including, by the way, the baby—had there been fewer of them. I see, despite sometimes mourning missing things or dropping proverbial balls, that they are, all four of them, the better for this (most of the time, at least). I see, despite sometimes mourning missing things or dropping proverbial balls, that I am the better for this, too (most of the time, at least).

Another former neighbor, mother of five, Eileeen, said to me when we were awaiting our third that “after three, it doesn’t get any louder; that’s how high the noise level rises, and then it levels off.” I hadn’t thought of that observation in years—until awaiting Saskia’s arrival. I wondered whether what she’d said was true. It was, truth be told, a reassuring idea, in that four-is-the-new-three vein. One could extrapolate, if it isn’t any louder, then perhaps it isn’t any harder, either. The verdict? I think she was correct. Four is not really any louder than three. Having said that, when three are in the house for a stretch—say, a sleepover takes one away—the house is calmer, and often, quieter.

Emily finds the obvious age constellations, one and two paired, three and four paired, aren’t always the best, and event though hers are closer in age than mine are, I wholly concur. It’s wonderful to see them having a grand time, either the preschooler watching Monty Python (wholly inappropriate, I know, he who brought the word f*&k to too many kindergarten pals last year) and then imitating sketches in faux English accent or the biggest one crawling around in a tent set up in the living room with the toddler. Saskia, for sure, believes she’s every bit as capable as all those kindergarten through sixth graders on the elementary school playground. As a result, she’s sliding and learning to climb, making her way up and down the terrain’s steep hills without a wobble and calling out to her kickball playing brother and his buddies, “Rem-y! Gabe-uh-la! Kate! Lucien!”

Emily, who didn’t want to burden her 14 year-old with babysitting duty at the time (he’s 16 now), wishes, in retrospect, that she’d burdened him more. Having more kids necessitates more hands on deck—not only parental hands—and that’s actually a benefit of the larger family constellation: kids get more capable (hooray).

Obviously, there is no single reality for families of any size. My friend, Polly, observed that with the arrival of their fourth, they no longer seemed to have enough hands on deck. Her last child, she observes, is “not the shy retiring type by any means.” Her littlest one’s incessant quest for attention was, according to Polly, “mostly directed at the new house: three flooded bathrooms, one set of ceiling-to-floor curtains decorated with marker pen etc. etc. However, the house has survived (and even benefitted from a few knocks around the edges), and so have we.”

Four is, well, it’s four. In this day and age, it’s a large family, even a little scandalous to some (I can’t count how many people have asked me, “Are you nuts?”). Although I expected exhaustion, mayhem and a laundry-filled existence, four is certainly not what I imagined. We were already at three so how much harder could it get, we wondered? Answer: harder. And better.

Polly summed it up so well in her email to me: “The other three children have been fantastic with her, putting-up with her antics, indulging her requests to play shops all day, and just laughing as she shouts `you naughty boy/girl’ at them yet again. And she in return has completed our family, making it bigger, better and more bountiful. We now finally seem to have a hand for each of our four children, and that is mostly enough.”